"A lot of the 1B and 1C patients are already calling, just proactively to get their name on the list," one pharmacy owner said.By Shelby Cassesse

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pharmacies are playing a growing role in vaccine distribution across Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced it activated Part B of the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which helps vaccinate the higher-risk population. Part A included skilled nursing facilities, while Part B expands the program’s mission to long-term care facilities.

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The department also requested the federal government launch the Retail Pharmacy Partnership with TopCo Associates and Rite Aid to expand access to vaccinate health care personnel and eventually other phases of the state’s vaccine plan.

TopCo is a member-owned company whose member-owners include Giant Eagle. In a statement Friday, Giant Eagle said it would initially help vaccinate those in Phase 1A of the state’s distribution plan.

Giant Eagle Pharmacy is committed to caring for our communities by providing access to important medicines, including the COVID-19 vaccine. In these early stages of distribution, we are helping state and local health departments administer the vaccine to the government-designated 1A group. We are prepared to administer the vaccine to the general population as soon as government authorities make the vaccine available for broader distribution. Nearly every one of our 700 Giant Eagle Pharmacists is a licensed vaccinator, with experience handling a variety of vaccines such as seasonal flu, shingles and pneumococcus. Giant Eagle Pharmacy has been a leading immunizer for more than a decade.

Currently, the state’s vaccine dashboard shows Giant Eagle stores in Pennsylvania have not yet received doses of the vaccine. Other local pharmacies have started administering the vaccines to those in Phase 1A, including Bushy Run Pharmacy in Harrison City.

Bushy Run Pharmacy is a Mainline Pharmacy and has held clinics for long-term care facility residents and frontline health care workers.

Owner and pharmacist Jack Moschgat says the pharmacy has given over 1,000 doses in the first few weeks.

“We were pretty prepared for it to be busy, but I think it’s maybe even a little more crazy than we expected,” he said.

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He says the clinics have become key for the small pharmacy to keep COVID-19 vaccinations from interrupting normal workflow.

Moschgat says they got a quick look at what that type of disruption could do when the state’s vaccine dashboard showed the pharmacy had doses.

“That day, we got a couple hundred calls,” he said.

Now anyone who calls Bushy Run Pharmacy is immediately greeted by an automated message telling them to email the pharmacy if they’re interested in a vaccine.

Once the pharmacy receives an email with the person’s information, including their occupation, they’re put on a waiting list.

“We’re working through that list,” Moschgat said. “So anybody who’s in the 1A category, we’re calling them, trying to set up a time where they can come to one of our clinics.”

Like all Pennsylvania vaccination sites, Bushy Run Pharmacy is awaiting guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health about moving into Phase 1B and beyond.

Moschgat says people in those subsequent phases are already preparing.

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“A lot of the 1B and 1C patients are already calling, just proactively to get their name on the list,” he said.